My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.
October 25th, 1768, Cook crossed the Line for the first time, something he was to do four more times in his life.
Crossing the Line has long been an event to celebrate in the life of any sailor and passenger on a ship. (I remember crossing the Line aboard RMS Edinburgh Castle in 1974 when I sailed from Southampton to Cape Town to begin an 8-month hitch-hiking solo trip from Cape Town to Cairo).
The Line in question? Crossing the Equator. New sailors are initiated by seasoned sailors called Trusty Shellbacks in the Court of King Neptune (Neptune being Lord of the sea).
In his Journal, Cook records the position of HMS Endeavour at noon on Tuesday, October 25th, as being:
“latitude 0 degrees 15 minutes South, longitude 29 degrees 30 minutes West”
So, the ship crossed the Line two of three hours earlier (15 miles at 5 knots is 3 hours). Weather at the time he recorded as, “A Genteel breeze and Clear weather, with a Moist Air”.
King Neptune’s Court was not summoned until the next day, Wednesday, October 26th, perhaps because Cook wanted to be certain of having crossed the Line before celebrating. He writes:
After we had got an observation, and it was no longer Doubted that we were to the Southward of the Line, the Ceremony on this occasion practis’d by all Nations was not Omitted. Every one that could not prove upon the Sea Chart that he had before Crossed the Line was either to pay a Bottle of Rum or be Duck’d in the Sea, which former case was the fate of by far the Greatest part on board; and as several of the Men chose to be Duck’d, and the weather was favourable for that purpose, this Ceremony was performed on about 20 or 30, to the no small Diversion of the Rest.
The Crossing the Line ceremony involves new sailors being summoned to King Neptune’s Court to answer charges of their offences against His Majesty and the application of suitable punishments. Ducking is the most common punishment. The ceremony is still practiced aboard British Royal Navy and US Naval ships, and in many other navies and ships, partly because sailors are sticklers for tradition (doing things the time-tested and reliable way) and because it’s fun and relieves boredom in mid-ocean and raises morale.
Certificates are often presented and these can be quite elaborate.
For more on Crossing the Line and current practices in navies see: